by Starsky Hutch 76
It had been amazingly simple for Clark Kent to adapt to a routine once moving into the house on Shuster Street. (*) He would wake up, shower, have breakfast, and spend a little family time with Jasma, Gerta, and Kristin. Then it was time to get Jasma off to preschool and go to work or go on patrol.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman: Babe on the Run, Epilogue: Moving Day.]
Today, Superman was prepared for a pretty uneventful day after dropping Jasma off at school and Kristin Wells at Metropolis University, where she was a professor of history. For once, there was no earth-shaking crisis to handle, and crime seemed to be on a downward trend in Metropolis. It would be a good day to check on things at the Fortress of Solitude.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d run a diagnostic check on the Superman robots. Now that another alien race was living in the replica of the bottle city of Kandor, he was still required to make periodic checks on their air supply. Plus, the alien zoo needed to be checked from time to time to make sure the automatic feeders were in perfect working order. Yes, it would be a good day to visit the Fortress.
Superman flew to the icy cliffside in the Arctic Circle where the Fortress lay built into its surface. He lifted the giant golden key and flew to the gargantuan lock in the monstrous golden door. He turned it until it gave a booming clang and then placed it back in the spot where passing planes would mistake it for a weather marker.
The giant door shut with a resounding clang that echoed through the cavernous halls of the Fortress of Solitude. For some reason, a chill passed through him as it resounded off the walls. He thought it odd that he’d feel that way, but reasoned that he must have picked up a bug the last time he was on Rokyn. He’d have to run a medical scan while he was here. He’d had bad experiences with Kryptonian germs in the past. He imagined the Rokyn variety was just as bad.
After leaving the entrance hall, he ventured into the enormous trophy room. Inspired by the Batcave, Superman had packed it to the gills with souvenirs from his many adventures. As he looked up, he noticed one such trophy was hanging at an odd angle.
Intending to right the crooked trophy, Superman leaped into the air. Rather than take flight, thought, he landed hard, slamming his chin into the floor as he fell.
“Har-har-har!” a deep voice guffawed. “If that ain’t the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.”
Superman rose shakily to his feet, and as he placed a hand to his chin, he gasped at the blood on his fingers. He looked up to where the voice had come from, and his eyes grew wide at the sight of what looked like a biker on a floating motorcycle as he moved from behind the trophy. “Wanna give it another shot? I mean, you still got all yer teeth right now.”
“Glad to see you remember yer ol’ pal Lobo,” the intruder said. (*) “Nice place you got here. I thought it could use a little fixing up, though. For instance, a change of lighting… from yellow to red — red sun, that is.”
[(*) Editor’s note: Superman and Lobo fought Despero in Justice League of America: Pyre.]
A look of dismay crossed Superman’s face. “That’s right,” Lobo said, grinning maliciously. “Yer just like every other bastich out there. Say, as long as we’re renovatin’, lets get rid of all these fraggin’ icicles all over the place.”
Lobo hit the accelerator on his rocket cycle and began blasting away at the icy stalactites hanging from the ceiling of the fortress. Superman dodged one after another as they began raining down upon him.
“Why are you doing this?” Superman shouted up at Lobo.
“It ain’t nothin’ personal, bub,” Lobo said. “Just business. My employer’s got big plans, and they want to make sure you ain’t gonna be around to screw ’em up.”
Finally, Lobo hit a stalactite near enough to its base that brought not only it, but also a great deal of rock and ice raining down toward Superman. He avoided the stalactite, but not the debris that followed.
Lobo gave a half-smirk and brought his bike down to the trophy room floor. He hefted his left leg over to join the right and hopped down to the carved-out stone floor of the Fortress. “Feetal’s giz! Take away what makes these red sun fraggers special, and they go down easy.”
He began lifting the large chunks of rock and ice and tossing them over his shoulder. “Well, whaddaya know? You ain’t dead!” Lobo said, grabbing Superman by the front of his uniform and jerking him up.
Lobo hefted him into the air to land at his feet. As Superman’s foot touched down, a grimace of pain crossed his face. “Looks like the Man of Steel’s become the man of tin,” Lobo smirked. “Well, Boy Scout, time to check out,” he said, rearing back to deliver a lethal blow. Instead, Superman dodged and brought his fist across Lobo’s jaw, surprising him.
“You’ve got moves! Who’d’a thunk it?” Lobo laughed as he sent Superman flying across the trophy room into the wall. “Usually you red sun types turn into cream-puffs once the powers are gone. I’m impressed — not so impressed that I’m not gonna frag ya, but impressed. Tell ya what I’m gonna do. I’ll give ya a head start just to be sporting about the whole thing.”
“If we’re going to finish this, let’s finish this now,” Superman said.
Lobo responded with a backhanded blow that knocked Superman to the floor and left him seeing stars.
“Sorry,” Lobo said, grinning. “It looked like you needed some sense knocked into you. It’s a slim chance I’m offerin’ ya, so take it. You’ve got twenty minutes, starting now.”
As loath as he was to play Lobo’s twisted games, Superman realized the hired killer had a point. This was his only chance. It was either do as he said and run, or lay down and die. Fighting someone with Lobo’s abilities while powerless was not an option.
The first thing he did, logically, was make a beeline to the weapons cache. But the entrance to that room had been barricaded with rock blasted from the ceiling, cutting off that option.
His next stop was the room in which the Superman robots were stored. But he found that the Superman robots had been disabled, and from the looks of things, Lobo had a pretty enjoyable time doing it. Their parts lay scattered across the workshop.
Superman was also cut off from the Phantom Zone projector. Years ago, he had created a force-shield that activated in his absence to prevent any intruders from releasing the Phantom Zone criminals. Thanks to events over the last two years, Mon-El was now its only current resident, so he had no longer bothered with the shield. The shield was activated now, however, and the code had been changed. It appeared Lobo had thought of everything. He would have to find another option and find it quickly. Time was running out.
Suddenly, the loudspeaker came to life. “Ready or not, here I come! Hey, nice sound system you have here, Stuporman. Hope you don’t mind, but I’m keeping your Beatles White Album. Oh, and I had to smash all yer Peter, Paul and Mary. When I switched the machine on and got blasted with Puff the Magic Dragon, I just couldn’t help myself. Yer other albums look good, but I’m afraid that would’ve earned ya a death sentence even if I weren’t under contract.”
Superman ran down the corridor as fast as his injured leg would let him. He could try to get to the JLA transporter, though that had probably already been sabotaged as well. There was also the space ark he had created in the event of global destruction. (*) That option, he realized, wasn’t viable. To try to fly it would level most of the Fortress, and he and Lobo weren’t its sole occupants.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Fortress of Fear,” DC Special Series #26 (Summer, 1981).]
“Hey, Superman, are these your parents?” Lobo said. “You know, I killed mine along with everyone else on Velorpia.” Superman suddenly heard the sound of stone breaking and crumbling to the floor. “Whoops! Did I do that? Looks like I killed yours, too.”
Superman felt himself filling up with rage. His fist clenched, and he wanted to hit something — hit Lobo. Yet there was nothing he could do. All he could do was keep running as he looked for a way out of his situation.
Suddenly, a large arrow bearing a fist on the end struck him in the shoulder and knocked him to the ground with a red flash of pain.
“Har! See you set off one of my little toys!” Lobo said over the PA system. “I got the idea fer that one from your buddy Green Arrow! But unlike that pansy, I didn’t use no boxing glove.” Superman looked down at the crystalline fist on the end and grimaced. “After the old Bizarro World blew up, there were a lot of those floating around.”
Superman tried to roll his shoulder and was rewarded with another flare of pain. It felt like it was broken. He realized that even if Lobo were powerless, he’d have a hard time fighting him.
“Better keep moving, Supes,” Lobo said over his remote mike as he moved through the Fortress. “Every time you set off one of the booby-traps, I’m able to home in on your location.”
Lobo was stopped short by the sound of the most beautiful singing he had ever heard. He moved forward, spellbound by the entrancing song. A peace settled over him that reminded him of the quiet moments of serenity he enjoyed with his fishies.
As he grew closer, he saw that the singer was actually a giant flower. The plaque on the door to the compartment said Venus Butterfly.
“Aren’t you a pretty little thing? He said, coming in for a closer look. The door had been left open, so he walked right up to it. “I think I’ll take you home with me, too. You can make up for the fishies that bastich Despero cost me.”
Suddenly, the flower turned to Lobo and sprayed him with a shower of yellow dust. Lobo gave a hacking cough and growled, “Yer lucky I like the way you sing!”
He backed up out of the glass cage and slammed the door. Suddenly, he heard a loud snarling and snorting and turned to see a large red, hideous creature racing toward him as fast as its lobster-clawed tentacles could carry it.
“Aw feetal’s giz!” Lobo groaned. He seemed to remember something in his intergalactic biology class as a kid back in the city of Czarnia on the planet Velorpia about bravado-beasts being enraged by the color yellow. Too bad he’d killed everyone on his homeworld before learning what to do about it.
Superman heard the distant ruckus as he moved further into the depths of the Fortress. You’re not the only one who can lay booby-traps, Lobo.
The bravado-beast was devouring a chunk of Lobo’s leg as the three larger pieces of the Czarnian began to morph into humanoid form. One of the three Lobos said, “He had to know that wouldn’t stop us.”
“He was buyin’ time,” the second one said. “But now there’s three of us to deal with!”
“But there’s only one main man!” the third one said, gesturing to himself with his thumb.
“Yeah, and that’s me!” the second Lobo said.
“The frag it is!” the first one said. “It’s me!”
“Look, this ain’t getting us anywhere,” the first one said. “We got a contract to live up to. Let’s split up and find the bastich who sicced that critter on us.”
“OK, but this ain’t over,” the second one warned.
“No, it ain’t!” the third one said.